Sagan to race Flanders for experience only

Slovak isn't targeting De Ronde, but didn't aim to win at De Panne

OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan will race the Tour of Flanders on Sunday for experience only. Liquigas-Cannondale’s sports director, Stefano Zanatta, said that Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara can aim to win, but his 22-year-old rider needs to learn.

“He’s not aiming for Flanders, he’s going to race it — it’s different,” Zanatta told VeloNews. “Cancellara and Boonen can aim for the win, we are going there with good condition to gain experience; that’s the first goal.”

Sagan has racked up an enormous amount of wins in just over two full seasons as a pro. Since 2010, he has won stages in Paris-Nice, the Vuelta a España, and the Tours of California, Romandie, Switzerland, Poland and Oman.

He has been hot in Belgium, too. Sagan led up the Tiegemberg climb in E3 Harelbeke on Friday and helped Cancellara attack in Ghent-Wevelgem two days later. He held on after the attack failed and sprinted to second behind Boonen on Sunday. That sprint also served him today in Oudenaarde, winning after a late attack by teammate Daniel Oss failed.

Boonen and Cancellara are resting and training, but Sagan is racing the mid-week Three Days of De Panne race for experience ahead of Flanders. He said that Flanders is not a big goal, but added, “I don’t know, I wasn’t even thinking about winning here today.”

Zanatta has kept an eye on Sagan since 2008, when he won in the junior mountain bike World Championships in Trento, Italy.

“Is he the same rider? No!” said Zanatta. “His desire, though, is the same. He’s matured a lot and knows what he needs to do.”

The Liquigas boss welcomed Sagan to the team in 2010, but waited until last year to bring him to race the Belgian classics.

“It’s all experience to learn the roads, what he needs [to do] to move ahead. If he is there with the best, like today, it’s better he tries to take a win for the team,” Zanatta explained.

“Boonen and Cancellara have already raced Flanders 10 times or more. The experience comes with racing on the roads next the others, with taking in the atmosphere… Maybe it penalizes him for Sunday in Flanders, but it serves for his future.”

Boonen and Cancellara have three Flanders wins between them. By contrast, Sagan is unable to differentiate between the Eikenberg and the Rekelberg.

“Luckily,” Sagan said, “we have race radios.”

Sagan leads the overall at De Panne with three stages over two day remaining. He faces a flat, but likely windy race tomorrow and two stages on Thursday. He said that he would not defend the jersey.

“I will race tomorrow and Thursday, but this is only for training.”

Zanatta must be hoping this experience pays off, even if there is a risk of wearing out Sagan ahead of Sunday.

“It could be a risk. This win will give him a boost and even more motivation for Sunday. We have five more days ahead; we will let him rest and be at his best.”